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Tal Farlow
Talmage Farlow
 Esophageal Cancer
July 25, 1998         
Age 77  
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OBITUARY 
       
      Tal Farlow, 77, Jazz Guitarist Rooted in Bop
       

        By PETER WATROUS  
       

               Tal Farlow, one of jazz's best-known guitarists, died on Saturday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He was 77 and lived in Sea Bright, N.J., and Manhattan. 

              The cause was esophageal cancer, said his wife, Michele Hyk-Farlow. 

              Farlow, one of the early be-boppers, was immensely affected by the playing of the pianist Bud Powell. His lines, clean and undistorted, sprang from his guitar; his sense of narrative, the way his ideas swooped and resolved, always sticking closely to the geography of a tune's structure, made his improvisations well worth following. A solo of Farlow's might quote other songs, but it was his swing, an unstoppable forward motion, that gave the solos vitality. 

              Farlow brought plenty to the guitar vocabulary, perfecting a technique in which he could extract the brilliant sound of a harmonic from any fret of the guitar; a good example is "Isn't It Romantic?," from a Verve album from 1954 titled "Tal." He also tinkered with electronics, devising an instrument that split notes into octaves; one of his early experiments to produce a sweeter-sounding guitar led him to shorten the length of the neck. 

              Farlow's musical originality was a reflection of his life. His friends included scientists and NASA engineers, and he kept the business side of jazz at a distance. 

              He was born in Greensboro, N.C., and quickly took up music. His father, who had been an amateur musician, recognized the destructive toll of work in the local mills and factories and urged his son to take up sign painting. That background helped Farlow when the rock-and-roll onslaught of the 1960's deprived many jazz musicians of a steady living. 

              In the mid-1940's he joined the pianist Dardanelle's group in New York. In 1949 -- he had already dropped out of music once to go back to sign painting -- Farlow joined the clarinetist Buddy DeFranco's small group, as well as Red Norvo's trio, which included a young Charles Mingus on bass. 

              The recordings the group left behind were striking for their ripping velocity and the accuracy with which the musicians played complex arrangements. And Farlow stands out, his be-bop lines cruising through with cool and power. 

              He worked a stint with Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five, spent a year working with Norvo again, and in 1954 won his first Down Beat award. Around that time, Farlow began recording under his own name, including a session in 1953 for Blue Note. Then he recorded a series of albums for Verve that included "Tal," "This is Tal Farlow," "Autumn In New York," "The Tal Farlow Album" and more; the albums often included Eddie Costa, a rocking, tough pianist who was his perfect foil. 

              In 1959 Farlow began retiring from view with greater frequency, moving to Sea Bright, where he read, went boating and taught jazz guitar; a one-hour lesson could turn into a daylong music session. 

              In the 1970's and 80's he emerged more often, and in the 90's he worked when he wanted, which wasn't often. He recorded through the years for Fantasy Records and Concord Records. 

              Farlow, who is survived by his wife, played up to a month or so before his death. 

       
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company 
       
 
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BIOGRAPHY
  
Tal Farlow: Age 77 

(b.  Talmage Holt Farlow, 7 June 1921, Greensboro, North Carolina) 

Farlow did not begin playing guitar until 1942 but before the decade was out he had achieved a sufficiently high standard to be hired by  cabaret singer Dardanelle, vibraphonist Marjorie Hyams and clarinetist  Buddy De Franco. In 1950, by now a fleet and inventive guitarist, he joined forces with another vibes player, Red Norvo, thus beginning a long-running and fruitful, if intermittent, musical partnership. The third  member of this group was Charles Mingus. Also in the '50s Farlow led his own trio, but he later drifted into retirement from music and concentrated on his career as a sign-painter. In the late '60s he made a handful of festival appearances, returning to fairly consistent public performances in the late '70s. In the '80s he resumed his working relationship with Red Norvo,  touring the USA, UK and Europe and delighting audiences, many of whom had been alerted to this fine musician's talents through a 1981 television  documentary, TALMAGE FARLOW. 

Corrections: Tal Farlow was born in 1924 and died in 1998 at age 74.
He stopped playing in August of 1997, his last gigs in New Milford, Connecticut where he and guitarist Jack Grassel in the afternoon gave a duo concert to the student body and at night recorded an instructional / interview video with guitarist Jody Fisher. In the last 11 months of his life he didn't perform in public but continued to give lessons at home in Sea Bright. ~jilljensen@jilljensen.com

 
 
 
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